Toni Castells - A story

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beginnings

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1970s/80s - Childhood

I was born in Berga (Spain) to a non musical and non artistic family. Listening to ABBA's Chiquitita as a 3 yr-old changed my life. It was the theme tune to a popular Spanish TV show at the time, and whenever it came on I was transfixed: I knew those sounds were my thing. Aged 4, officially too young to be accepted, I joined the local music school where I started learning this mysterious art.

 
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1990s - Teens

Aged 13 I formed my first band with local friends, Herzia, in which I played the keyboards and occasionally sang (badly). We grew up together and stayed together for 10 years. We eventually got signed in 1998 by Spanish indie label AZ Records. We released our first and only album 'Coses que Passen' in 1999. Despite of the fact that it didn't cause much of a stir and went largely unnoticed, highly respected music magazine 'Popular 1' named it as one of the best releases of 1999.

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1998 - Musiclan

Aged 18 I enrolled into La Salle University as a career in music wasn't an option for me at the time. After graduating with top grades in Telecommunications and Electronic Engineering 5 years later, I got a job as a tea boy at Musiclan, Spain's newly built and flavour of the month recording studios.

I was thrown in at the deep end from day one. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, intuitively I started recording most of my teen musical heroes now my clients, quickly learning how to make records and the invisible codes of music making and the recoding industry.

My attempts to balance an extremely intense studio schedule with being member of Herzia burned me out completely. In the summer of the year 2000 I hit rock bottom, I had lost all passion for what I was doing and I escaped to London in search of some breathing space and new horizons.

 

London

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2000 - Jose Maria Cano

I arrived to a fresh and showery London in August 2000 and checked myself into a B&B in Earl's Court, sharing a small room with 4 others. Snoring sounds kept me awake at night but a combination of adrenaline and excitement kept me wide awake during the day. I combined searching for rare bootleg recordings with drinking pints and getting lost and meandering the city. 

Serendipity soon placed Spanish pop legend José María Cano into my path. Member of 80s superband Mecano, he had established himself in London in the 90s and was looking for someone to help him complete his first solo album. It had to be me. I moved from my B&B to his townhouse in Holland Park where I exchanged my snoring partners for Schnabels, Warhols and Basquiats. It took us 6 months to complete JoseCano (Muxxic 2000).

I kept working for José María on other projects such as the Centenary Anthem for Real Madrid, sung by Plácido Domingo. He became a big influence and later a good friend, he opened the doors of London to me and also a rare opportinity to witness his genius at work. 

 

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2001 - Royal College of Music

By then I had lost my job back in Spain and my band had kicked me out...I had nothing to come back home for and, luckily again, in 2001 I manage to secure a dream job as Assistant Engineer at the recording studios at the Royal College of Music.

There I finally find a stable home. I stay at the RCM for 5 years, combining studio work with live recordings of the various RCM ensembles and opera productions. I meet and befriended the most incredible emerging talent and at the same time I had the opportunity to record classical superstars such as conductors Lorin Maazel and Sir Roger Norrington.

 

(2001-2007)  - finding my voice

Me and Beth Rodergas in the studio.

Me and Beth Rodergas in the studio.

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Unharmed (2006)

It was during my time at the Royal College of Music when I finally found the stability to start writing again. I released by debut solo album Unharmed in 2006, an album that summarised my efforts those first years at blending popular music with classical elements, two strands that up to that point had run in parallel in my life, never intersecting. Thematically Unharmed dealt with my struggles with self-love and overcoming self-destructive patterns. It was initially released under the artistic name Momo. Ironically, I left the RCM as I released Unharmed. 

In it I collaborated with marvellous Spanish singer Beth who happened to spend some time in London around those years. Beth had represented Spain in the Eurovision Song Contest 2003 where she finished 8th. No Spanish artist has done better on Eurovision since. She was referred by British commentator Terry Wogan as Kylie Minogue in dreadlocks, however her miraculous husky and broken voice is a world apart from the one of the Australian superstar. The album also featured X-Factor finalist Roberta Howett. It made it to the top 20 of the iTunes Electronica charts on its release. 

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Bush Hall (2007)

Both the experiences with my band and my classical upbringing engraved in me the importance and sacredness of presenting music live to an audience. I had to be able to perform my music live and in 2007 I adapted Unharmed for live presentation in collaboration with the Sacconi String Quartet and photographer Conor Masterson, who used his photographic archive to create an intriguing visual backdrop.

I self-produced and self-financed a show that was tested first at the Roxy Bar and Screen in London on the 12th of June of 2007 and finally premiered in Bush Hall also in London on the 23rd of July of 2007. Several more performances followed from 2007 to 2010 in the UK and Spain.

Specialised music reviewer Whisperin & Hollerin gave it 8 out of 10 stars and Julia Stuart from the Independent wrote a feature on it on the printed edition of the Independent on the 11th of September 2007 entitled ‘Pop goes Mozart’.

 

Live Performance Data

  • Roxy Bar and Screen (London) - 12th June 2007 - free entryaudience 40+
  • Bush Hall (London) - 23rd July 2007 - audience 95 - PR by Zest - see report on your right.
  • Ginglik (London) - 14th May 2008 - audience 30+
  • The Bedford (London) - 15th May 2008 - audience 40+
  • The Cuckoo Club (London) - 10th Sept 2008 - audience 80+ 
  • Roadtrip (London) - 11th Sept 2008 - audience 50+ 
  • The Stables (Milton Keynes) - 12th Sept 2008 - Dawson Breed Music Promoter - audience 50+
  • FNAC (Barcelona) - 19 Sept 2008 - promotional gig - audience 50+ 
  • MMVV Festival (Barcelona) - 20 Sept 2008 - audience 200+
  • Casino (Barcelona) - 25th April 2009 - audience 150+
  • Formentera (Spain) - 23rd July 2009 - open air concert - audience 500+
  • UNNIM Auditorium (Barcelona) - 17th Sept 2010 - audience 250+

Bush Hall | Zest PR | Performance review

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(2008) - an interlude

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Piano Works (2011)

In 2004 I purchased in auction an old Chappell piano which I still keep to this day, it's one of my favourite instruments. I feel inspired every time I hear its sound, a sound with echoes of honky tonk and deficient tuning. 

I like improvising ideas on it, still to this day, searching for simple and basic musical ideas that have musical integrity, strong musical kernels. I record them on multiple portable dictaphones. ‘Piano Works’ (2011) is a compilation of some of these recordings. 

I find some of those recordings quite naive now, I can feel what I was looking for, something I'm starting to find now, but I value having some of those recordings documented from that period. I have hundreds more I still have to catalogue.

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1.60.3600 (2011)

My good friend and actor and director Robert Cameron wrote this theatrical play back in 2006 entitled ‘1.60.3600’. It was performed at the Regent's Park Studio and Young Vic.

He asked me to write some music for it and I created some piano pieces with my Chappell piano which I think worked quite well.

I enjoyed working with Robert and the rest of the actors. I loved having constraints and limitations as opposed to the endless terrifying freedom I have when I write my own music. 


(2009-2016) - a two part story 

PART 1: birth

Oratori (Sexual Intercourse) ft Rebecca Nelsen

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Creation (2011)

By 2009 I was intensely working on new material. I recall it was the first time I felt I had a glimpse at the artistic voice I had been searching for all those years. Those two parallel lines were finally not just colliding but intertwining creating beautiful and distinct patterns I had never heard before. 

Also by that time I had become increasingly interested in the transcendental aspect of reality. I was moving through an existentialist phase, unavoidable rite of passage of any artist I imagine.

Creation was released in 2011 and compiled compositions that explored my new obsession with our origin and purpose as a species. I explored the birth of life as we know it, the role of sex in the creation of life and the fact that our genes will never naturally exist in the same combination again, making every human being completely unique.

Here I started my collaboration with American soprano Rebecca Nelsen, lead soprano at Volksoper and labelled ‘a star’ by the Wall Street Journal. I was introduced to Rebecca by Michael Haas, multi Grammy Award winning producer for Georg Solti and Pavarotti amongst others who had become and admirer of my work. 

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Life from Light (2012)

In 2012 I adapted Creation for live presentation in the form of Life from Light, my second self-produced live show which I premiered at Union Chapel on the 15th of November 2012.

Taking the name from the eponymous BBC documentary series (BBC 2012) that described the origins of Life on planet Earth, here I envisaged to create a powerful and moving live experience to capture the depth and transcendence of the themes I explored in Creation, the nature of human beings and the question of their ultimate origin. 

Nature sounds such as birdsong, wind swirls and water textures were used as a sonic backdrop to the entire length of the piece, as if the performance was taking place in nature itself. I also created bespoke video art created in collaboration with London based video artist and RCA graduate Thomas Yeomans to create a more immersive experience.

'Life from Light' | Union Chapel | Trailer.

'Life from Light' | Union Chapel | Full

Union Chapel Data

  • 117 tickets sold
  • 68 comps
  • 185 audience
  • Press coverage on the Independent, the Independent on Sunday, Times of India, Time Out, Islington Gazette and RT.com
  • 24,525 views on YouTube (4th Nov 2017)
Times of India (2012)

Times of India (2012)

 

Pure Potential ft Meeta Raval + Yelfris Valdes

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Life from Light (2014)

Life from Light was readapted in 2014 by invitation of Tete-a-Tete Opera and sponsored by Arts Council England who awarded me one of their Grants for the Arts. Whereas my work cannot be described as traditional opera, the operatic voices I use in my music allowed for the piece to be included as part of their Summer Festival.

Life from Light was performed over two nights at London’s Kings Place Hall One in August 2014 becoming the most successful event in the Festival that year. For these performances I collaborated with sopranos Meeta Raval and Camilla Kerslake. Meeta was a finalist at the BBC Cardiff Singer of the World 2011, winning the Dame Eva Turner Prize for “a soprano with dramatic potential” and the inaugural prize-winner at the Royal Academy of Music Pavarotti Prize

I also had the opportunity to collaborate with Cuban jazz trumpeter Yelfris Valdés, member of Carlos Acosta’s band for Royal Opera House' sellout show Cubanía and one of the most gifted performers of his generation.

Kings place data

  • 381 tickets sold
  • 53 comps
  • 434 audience
  • Press coverage on London Evening Standard, Mail on Sunday, Metro, Music Week and Islington Gazette.
  • 19,496 YouTube views (4th Nov 2017)
Islington Gazette (2014)

Islington Gazette (2014)


PART 2: DEATH

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Slaves of Time (2015)

In 2015 I find myself battling depression after loosing someone I loved. Through the album I explore my growing obsession with destiny, time and man’s obsession to try and control both. The album is more fractured than my previous work, reflecting the fractures in my personal life.

The album features again Rebecca Nelsen's operatic voice. 

 

Slaves of Time ft Rebecca Nelsen

2045 | St James's Piccadilly | Trailer

2045 | St James's Piccadilly | Full

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2045 (2017)

In 2017 I adapted Slaves of Time for live presentation in the form of 2045, my third live piece which I premiered at St James's Piccadilly on the 6th of July 2016. It was further performed at Cowdray Park on the 9th of July 2016.

2045 is an exploration of death using the paradigm of Technological Singularity - this new era in which man and machine will finally merge allowing us to prolong life indefinitely - as evidence of man's obsession to overcome death. In writing the piece I researched dozens of accounts of Near Death Experiences (a particular account by Dr. Mary Neal is actually embedded into the piece) together the perspective on death of many Eastern Philosophical and Shamanic traditions. 

They all share the same idea that our soul is immortal and that we should therefore not fear death. Writing 2045 was my way of dealing with depression and overcoming it. 

2045 DATA

  • 158 tickets sold in advance St James's
  • 36 tickets sold at the door St James's
  • 43 comps St James's
  • 78 guests at Cowdray Park
  • 315 audience
  • Press coverage on BBC Radio 3, The Guardian, Tatler, Schmopera and Bonsall Peak Advertiser.
  • 20,878 YouTube views (4th Nov 2017)
The Guardian Music Guide (2017)

The Guardian Music Guide (2017)


(2017) finding a new voice

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Savior Programs (2017)

2045 was a very personal project, dealing with death in a way to help me overcome a moment in my life when death was overshadowing life. The process felt cathartic, very healing, and in a way it felt like shredding a skin. A part of me died with 2045 and a more stronger version of me emerged.

With this change came the need to find a new voice that followed that personal transformation. Savior Programs is part of this process and found a very unexpected voice with Persian and Middle Eastern influences, deep 808s and sharp cello based string arrangements. 

 

D  A  T  A  |   S   T   A   T   I   S   T   I   C   S

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